Boeing given long list of proposed fixes for 737 Max return

FAA asks for public comment on the changes it expects to require from the plane linked to 2 fatal crashes

WASHINGTON • US aviation regulators have proposed a long list of fixes to Boeing Co’s grounded 737 Max in one of the most extensive set of requirements the agency has issued following an accident.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday asked for public comment on the changes it expects to require from the plane linked to two fatal crashes.

In addition to fixes specific to the system implicated in the accidents, it would mandate broad computer changes to improve reliability, add a warning light that was inoperative in the two crashes and require rerouting electrical wires that don’t meet safety rules.

Boeing climbed 2.7% to US$162.27 (RM684.78) at the close in New York after the announcement. The shares have dropped 50% this year, the worst decline on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The release of the FAA proposal showed that, after 16 months of the plane’s grounding and a series of investigative reports and congressional hearings, aviation regulators are satisfied that the fixes will allow the plane to safely resume service. Flight tests of the redesigned systems by FAA were completed on July 2.

The agency “has preliminarily determined that Boeing’s proposed changes to the 737 Max design, flight crew procedures and maintenance procedures effectively mitigate the aeroplane-related safety issues” revealed in the crashes, it said in a summary report it included with the proposal.

The step is a welcome milestone, but needs to be approached with caution because other critical regulators in Europe and Canada haven’t acted, said Richard Aboulafia, an industry analyst with Teal Group.

“We’ll see what the commentary period brings and we’ll see, most importantly, what the international partners do,” Aboulafia said.

While the European Aviation Safety Agency hasn’t yet been able to conduct its own test flights of the Max, Boeing has “demonstrated compliance” under the European standards, the FAA said in its summary of the review.

The FAA’s proposal for fixes and a preliminary report on its findings from its own internal investigation provided the most detailed accounting to date by the agency on the plane’s original shortfalls and what went wrong in the two crashes.

The actions would cost US airlines about US$1 million for the 73 planes registered in the country, the FAA said. The agency didn’t estimate how much it would cost to make the required changes on the several hundred jets registered in other countries and didn’t account for Boeing’s costs. The Chicago- based manufacturer may cover some of the airlines’ repair costs under warranty, FAA said.

The FAA also proposed requiring a test of the sensor — known as an angle of attack vane — that failed in the crashes and giving each aircraft a test flight before it’s permitted to return to service.

The fixes outlined by FAA apply only to the Max models, but the agency said Boeing is considering some changes to the 737 Next Generation family, which preceded the Max but weren’t susceptible to the same failure. Boeing has sold more than 7,000 Next Generation planes, meaning costs could be higher if upgrades are eventually required.

“We’re continuing to make steady progress toward the safe return to service, working closely with the FAA and other global regulators,” Boeing said in an emailed statement. “While we still have a lot of work in front of us, this is an important milestone in the certification process.”

The public has 45 days to comment on the FAA’s plans. That means the plane most likely can’t get the official go-ahead to return until October at the earliest. With airlines having to retrain pilots and perform maintenance on the grounded fleet, it will take weeks or months longer before the planes begin carrying passengers.

The changes listed by the FAA track with those that have been discussed for months, indicating no new problems were found in the later stages of the agency’s review.

A pair of crashes — each tied to the same flawed system that malfunctioned and repeatedly dove the planes — killed 346 people less than five months apart.

The first occurred Oct 29, 2018, in the Java Sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta. The second was on March 10, 2019, in Ethiopia. The plane was grounded worldwide three days after the second crash. — Bloomberg